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the post-american world June 23, 2008

Posted by KG in books, foreign policy, international, iraq war, politics, religion, reviews, terrorism, Uncategorized.
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excerpt from fareed zakaria’s new book, the post-american world (nytimes review), which i highly recommend

(also, be sure to check out gps, his new show on cnn…”CNN U.S. chief Jonathan Klein approached Zakaria about a year ago and was told that “the only show I want to do is one that fills in the huge gaping hole in American television, which is 95 percent of the rest of the world,” Zakaria said in an interview with the Associated Press on Monday…”):

The split between Sunnis and Shiites is only one of the divisions within the Islamic world. Within that universe are Shiites and Sunnis, Persians and Arabs, Southeast Asians and Middle Easterners, and, importantly, moderates and radicals. Just as the diversity within the communist world ultimately made it less threatening, so do the many varieties of Islam undermine its ability to coalesce into a single, monolithic foe. Some Western leaders speak of a single worldwide Islamic movement – absurdly lumping together Chechen separatists in Russia, Pakistani-backed militants in India, Shiite warlords in Lebanon, and Sunni jihadists in Egypt. In fact, a shrewd strategist would emphasize that all these groups are distinct, with differing agendas, enemies, and friends. That would rob them of their claim to represent Islam…

A cottage industry of scaremongering has flourished in the West-especially in the United States-since 9/11. Experts extrapolate every trend they don’t like, forgoing any serious study of the data. Many conservative commentators have written about the impending Islamization of Europe (Eurabia, they call it, to make you even more uncomfortable). Except that the best estimates, from U.S. intelligence agencies, indicate that Muslims constitute around 3 percent of Europe’s population now and will rise to between 5 and 8 percent by 2025, after which they will probably plateau. The watchdogs note the musings of every crackpot Imam, search the archives for each reference to the end of days, and record and distribute the late-night TV musings of every nutcase who glorifies martyrdom. They erupt in a fury when a Somali taxi driver somewhere refuses to load a case of liquor into his car, seeing it as the beginning of sharia in the West. But these episodes do not reflect the basic direction of the Muslim world. That world is also modernizing, though more slowly than the rest, and there are those who try to become leaders in rebellion against it. The reactionaries in the world of Islam are more numerious and extreme than those in other cultures-that world does have its dysfunctions. But they remain a tiny minority of the world’s billion-plus Muslims. And neglecting the complicated context in which some of these pseudoreligious statements are made-such as an internal Iranian power struggle among clerics and nonclerics-leads to hair-raising but absurd predictions, like Bernard Lewis’s confident claim that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad planned to mark an auspicious date on the Islamic calendar (August 22, 2006) by ending the world. (Yes, he actually wrote that.)

The ideological watchdogs have spent so much time with the documents of jihad that they have lost sight of actual Muslim societies. Were they to step back, they would see a frustration with the fundamentalists, a desire for modernity (with some dignity and cultural pride for sure), and a search for practical solutions-not a mass quest for immortality through death. When Muslims travel, they flock by the millions to see the razzle-dazzle of Dubai, not the seminaries of Iran. The minority that wants jihad is real, but it operates within societies where such activites are increasingly unpopular and irrelevant.

excerpt from newsweek:

Look around. The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood. Once quintessentially American icons have been usurped by the natives. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year. America no longer dominates even its favorite sport, shopping. The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American. These lists are arbitrary and a bit silly, but consider that only ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.


frustration February 18, 2008

Posted by AP in international, psychology, religion, sex, terrorism.
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from the new york times:

Here in Egypt and across the Middle East, many young people are being forced to put off marriage, the gateway to independence, sexual activity and societal respect. Stymied by the government’s failure to provide adequate schooling and thwarted by an economy without jobs to match their abilities or aspirations, they are stuck in limbo between youth and adulthood.

“I can’t get a job, I have no money, I can’t get married, what can I say?” Mr. Sayyid said one day after becoming so overwhelmed that he refused to go to work, or to go home, and spent the day hiding at a friend’s apartment.

In their frustration, the young are turning to religion for solace and purpose, pulling their parents and their governments along with them.

i remember steve fish briefly covering this idea in his democracy class: the basic contention is that sexual frustration is a major contributing cause of suicide terrorism and a hindrance to democracy.

Today, Ms. Ashour dresses in a loose black gown called an abaya, and covers her head, all but her eyes, with a black piece of clothing over her face called a niqab. When she goes outside she wears black gloves as well. Even in this conservative town, she looks like a religious fundamentalist.

not only does your religion forbid extramarital sex, masturbation, and homosexuality, but it also prevents you from being able to look at females. for teenage boys, do you think this quells sexual desire?

on the contrary, it means that EVERY girl you meet is HOT.

god’s crucible February 2, 2008

Posted by KG in books, history, religion, reviews.
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joan acocella reviews david lewis’ god’s crucible: islam and the making of europe, 570-1215:

This book has to be understood in context, or, actually, two contexts. The first is post-colonialism, the effort on the part of scholars from the nineteen-seventies onward to correct the biases that accompanied and justified the colonization of eighty-five per cent of the earth by European powers between the sixteenth and the twentieth centuries. In that period, according to Edward Said’s 1978 “Orientalism”—the founding document of post-colonial thought—history-writing about the Near East and the Middle East was an arm of empire. Its goal was to make non-Western peoples seem uncivilized, so that European control would appear a boon. Since Said, much writing on Europe’s former colonies has been an effort to redress that injustice.

The other context in which Lewis’s book must be read is, of course, the history of terrorism, since the late nineteen-seventies, on the part of people claiming to be instructed by the Koran. When this started, most Westerners had little idea of what the Muslim world was. Harems, hookahs, carpets—that was about it. Nor, after the terrorist attacks, was it easy to catch up in any proper way, for, while there has been an outpouring of books on Islam in the past two decades, many of them were for or against it. A number of prominent intellectuals have denounced Islam. Other people have protested that the vast majority of Muslims do not support terrorism. Some historians have condemned not just the demonization of Islam but the West’s ignorance of the Muslim world—a failure now seen as political folly, not to speak of arrogance. Scholars went to their desks to testify to the glories of Islamic cultures. Salma Khadra Jayyusi, in the foreword to her magnificent anthology “The Legacy of Muslim Spain” (1992)—a collection of forty-nine essays describing not just the politics and the religion of Muslim Iberia but its cities, architecture, music, poetry, calligraphy, and cooking—calls the omission of Islam from the West’s story of civilization a “historical crime.”

Rahman was the founder of Muslim Spain’s famous convivencia. Translated literally, the word means “living together,” in spite of differences, and this idea is the burning center of “God’s Crucible.” I think it is the reason that Lewis chose to write about Muslim Spain. He is not an Arabist. He is best known for a two-volume biography of W. E. B. Du Bois (1993 and 2000), which won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for each volume. But that book, if it is not about Arabs, is about racial justice, and it is for the furtherance of such justice that Lewis so admires Rahman. Nevertheless, as he points out, the convivencia had its limits. It was not just a humane policy—an act of obedience to the Koran (“There shall be no compulsion in religion”) and a way of being civilized—but also a matter of Realpolitik. Iberia was a ragbag of religious and ethnic groups. Tolerance, what we would now call multiculturalism, was more likely to hold them together than forced conversion. Furthermore, the convivencia never involved complete equality. In the early years, a number of restrictions were placed on Jews and Christians. They had to wear identification badges. They could not proselytize, and they were required to pray quietly. Their houses could not be taller than Muslims’ houses. Most important, they had to pay a heavy tax, called the jizya. In time, many of these rules (not including the tax) fell away. Jews, especially, were allowed to enter public service, as scribes, clerks, advisers. They taught the Muslims how to run a government, Lewis writes. The golden age of Al Andalus, he says, was also the golden age of Sefarad, the Sephardic Jews. But even those who did not have brilliant careers no doubt found badges and taxes preferable to forced conversion or death. Eventually, many Jews and Christians did convert—probably, in many cases, to avoid the tax. At the end of the eighth century, the vast majority of people in Iberia were Christians. Two hundred years later, the majority were Muslims.


If, as Edward Said wrote, the old history books were covertly ideological, the current ones tend to be overtly ideological, as each new generation of scholars rides in to rescue supposedly worthy peoples who were wronged by earlier scholarship and, in their time, by axe-wielding conquerors. But all these peoples, or all the ones in Lewis’s book, were conquerors. If the Christians took Spain from the Muslims, the Muslims had taken it from the Visigoths, who had appropriated it from the Romans, who had seized it from the Carthaginians, who had thrown out the Phoenicians. Lewis does not pretend that the Muslims were not conquerors; he simply justifies their conquest on the ground of their belief in convivencia, a pressing matter today. I can foresee a time when another matter important to us, the threat of ecological catastrophe, will prompt a historian to write a book in praise of the early Europeans whom Lewis finds so inferior to the Muslims. The Franks lived in uncleared forests, while the Muslims built fine cities, with palaces and aqueducts? All the better for the earth. The Franks were fond of incest? Endogamy keeps societies small, prevents the growth of rapacious nation-states. The same goes for the Franks’ largely barter economy. Trade such as the Muslims practiced—far-flung and transacted with money—leads to consolidation. That’s how we got global corporations.

Each new problem in our history engenders a revision of past history. Many of today’s historians acknowledge this, and argue that their books, if politicized, are simply more honest about that than the politicized books of the past. This pessimism about the possibility of finding a stable truth may be realistic, but it seems to sanction, even encourage, special pleading—of which “God’s Crucible,” for all its virtues, is an example.